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News Analysis

WBBL mid-season takeaways: Grace's bat, TV umpires and Thunder's revival

There has been no shortage of sixes this season while young pace bowlers have caught the attention

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
Chamari Athapaththu has been tremendous at the top of Sydney Thunder's order  •  Getty Images

Chamari Athapaththu has been tremendous at the top of Sydney Thunder's order  •  Getty Images

The WBBL season is about to hit the midway mark of the regular season with the table starting to take shape in the push for finals. Three teams are on ten points while Sydney Sixers and Melbourne Stars are languishing in the bottom half. Here are a few takeaways from the first half of the competition

Grace Harris' broken bat

It will be hard to go past it as moment of the season: Grace Harris calling for a new bat then proceeding to still launch a huge six despite the bat snapping in half having said: "Nah, stuff it, I'll still hit it." Next ball, with a new bat in hand, she launched another six in what became an astonishing WBBL record 136 not out off 59 balls with 11 sixes.
It came after Harris had been left out of the T20I series against West Indies with Australia opting to use Phoebe Litchfield in the middle order. "Thought it [the handle] just clicked a little bit and didn't want to be given nicked off as the ball went past and I didn't hit the ball," she said. "When I faced up, I thought it's probably hanging on, when they get that looser handle they are at their best, they are pinging. Thought I'd still hit it for six, they'd been going miles went for six, so paid off for me then."

Sixes rain

It helps when Harris hits 11 on her own in one innings, but there has been no shortage of sixes in this year's edition. Closing on the midway mark there have been 148 meaning this season has a good chance of challenging 2018-19 season when there were 266 in total. Alongside Harris, Chamari Athapaththu (13) and Litchfield (10) - more on Sydney Thunder's success below - are both into double figures of sixes. It's worth noting, however, that Katie Mack who, for a few hours, was the tournament's leading run-scorer has yet to clear the rope once in nearly 300 runs.

Where's the third umpire?

The controversy so far this season has revolved around the absence of a third umpire in the non free-to-air TV games of the tournament. It first came to light when Rhys McKenna was given out stumped (via the ball bouncing off the wicketkeeper) despite the foot being firmly planted behind the line. A few days later, Amanda-Jade Wellington tried to affect a run out by pulling out the stump but got her timing marginally wrong - something that would have been spotted by a replay. And Lizelle Lee was given a huge reprieve early in her 91 against Sydney Thunder when she was ruled not out to a stumping.
There will be an increase in fully-produced TV games under the new broadcast deal next season which will allow wider use of the full DRS that was first brought in last summer. Cricket Australia has also said they will look to have a third umpire for line decisions in all games, including those that are still only streamed. However, former New Zealand wicketkeeper Katey Martin called for an immediate in-season solution although that appears unlikely to happen.

Eye on the speed gun

There is some pace around the Australian game, and that's even with Darcie Brown having been out injured so far this season. Milly Illingworth, the Melbourne Stars quick, stood out in the opening game when she nudged 121kph against Sydney Sixers and wasn't afraid to bounce Ash Gardner. She has been used sparingly by Stars, and is not a fixture in the XI, but the promise is hugely exciting.
"She probably took me by surprise a little bit," Gardner said. "I watched a little bit of footage [before the match], but you probably don't get the full grasp until you face her. She had some pretty good pace behind her, which is exciting for Australian cricket."
Chloe Ainsworth has been more of a regular for Perth Scorchers and marked her debut with a double-wicket opening over which included a searing second-ball yorker to remove Lee. She then found herself on a hat-trick against Sixers before, like the rest of the attack, coming in for some treatment from Harris. In the return fixture against Hurricanes, Ainsworth then claimed 3 for 25. She was visibly emotional when unable to defend 12 in the last over against Adelaide Strikers.
Over at Melbourne Renegades, left-armer Sara Kennedy is another who has been given her first taste of the WBBL. The left-arm pace angle is rare in the women's game and she, too, is capable of nudging up the speed gun as she showed at the WACA where she claimed her maiden wickets - striking twice in three balls including having Gardner lbw.

Thunder's revival

The only way was up for Sydney Thunder after they registered one victory last season, but they have certainly shown promising signs of a turnaround. Approaching the midway point of the campaign they are top having notched five wins in six matches including a significant victory over Brisbane Heat at North Sydney Oval under a new leadership group headed by Lisa Keightley. It had felt as though they had put together an excellent draft by securing Marizanne Kapp, Heather Knight and Lauren Bell, but it has been their fourth signing, Athapaththu, who has been the revelation and has forced herself into their top three overseas, meaning Bell has been benched. Coupled with the evolving power hitting of Litchfield and the resurgence of Hannah Darlington, they are looking a very well-balanced team. Belinda Clark, the former Australia captain, has also been working with them in mentoring capacity.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo